3 Nov

Turikumwe means ‘we are together’ in Kinyarwanda and that’s just what us Health 3ers have been for the past week. It’s emerged as a combination theme/running joke for the training since it is a common expression our coworkers. It’s also my second favorite phrase in Kinya, ‘Hariya hepfo’ being the first. Anyone have any guesses on what it means?

Last Sunday (October 23rd) we slowly made our way in groups from sites and regional towns to the resort town of Kibuye on the shore of Lake Kivu. Our lodging, the Hotel Bethanie is a good distance from town, which combined with the packed schedule, leaves this experience feeling like a bit like a lock-in. This situation has left some people restless but so far I’ve been really busy and not felt the need to get out.
None of us knew what to expect when we showed up Sunday were kept in the dark with most details with the exception food logistics and the time we needed to report for duty. Monday morning there was a palpable playful energy emanating from the group, the result of all of us together again for the first time since pre-service training. We’ve come a long way since the clueless/naïve group that first arrived in Kamonyi to meet our host families.

Monday, the first day was spent discussing logistics and the schedule for the week. But most of all we spent took time to share our experiences. We quickly filled up a sheet of paper with Parking Lot questions and so far the rate at which we add to it is quite a bit greater than the rate we address them.

The days are jam packed and we spend a lot of time sitting either in sessions, at meals, or around beers in the evening. The staff has really made an effort to incorporate time for group activities, brainstorming and pleeeeenty of energizers, including a really great laughter yoga exercise.

We’ve had sessions on a variety of topics utilizing the experience of colleagues of volunteers who live nearby. Some sessions have been more helpful than others, but that’s with anything. Session topics include, family planning, nutrition, youth friendly centers, sexual assault as it relates to PCVs, and planning and implementation of programs. I have quite the list of potential project ideas to bring back to my health center.

The food here is really good, or at least a departure from what were accustomed to at our sites. The buffet style means it’s plentiful, and many of us have remarked on the inevitability of leaving IST a couple pounds heavier than when we arrived. I’ve enjoyed fish, meatballs, salads, and french fries in large quantities since being here. We have a break in the morning and one in the afternoon where snacks, tea, and coffee are served. I’ve been drinking A LOT of coffee, so far it hasn’t messed with my sleep schedule too much.

The bulk of our hours are spent in a waterfront building, upstairs in a large room where we have sessions, on the balcony soaking up the lake view, or downstairs on the patio where we talk all our meals and drinks in the evening. It is absolutely beautiful here, though unfortunately despite our lake front location, due to the weather and Peace Corps ‘strong discouragement’ there hasn’t been a lot of swimming going on. The reason PCVs are discouraged from swimming in the lakes here is due to a gnarly disease called Shisto, the vector being tiny snails on the surface of still water. There’s some cognitive dissonance because earlier groups of volunteers in country were under different leadership and received a different message about the seriousness of Shisto. Apparently it’s not an issue until you start peeing blood, and that can take months. Part of our medical care includes being tested for Shisto before we conclude our service. So, volunteers are all over the spectrum on how they feel about swimming.

The first couple of days we were here wireless internet was plentiful and I was able to Skype with some people. Unfortunately, the power went out Tuesday night and we haven’t made any progress with getting the wireless back on track so I’ve missed several Skype dates sadly.

Friday afternoon our IST concluded and in the evening most of our counterparts arrived for the Behavior Communication Change workshop beginning Saturday. It was a little stressful with my coworker there because I feel like my life outside of site is so distinct from my life at site, even down to my name. At site everyone calls me by my Kinya name ‘Mahoro’ while everyone PC related calls me Heidi. I also felt a pressure to be the hostess for my counterpart but luckily things worked out for the best.

We were able to celebrate Halloween even here in Rwanda on Friday the 28th along with a volunteer’s birthday. As part of their wish, a majority of us did everything we could to put together costumes and we headed out dancing. As so often happens with me, I failed to find the energy for follow-through on my flash of inspiration for my costume. As a result, my Rwandan school girl costume was a bit lackluster but at the end of the day, it was the effort that mattered most.

The BCC session was painful, partially because they were days seven, eight, and nine of sitting all day getting information spewed at us. The other painful part was that some parts were super basic and review of what we learned during PST but they were really helpful for our counterparts for whom, the information was relatively new.

The IST experience was the closest our group has come to living together since we were the first group to live with host families instead of the center-based training that previous groups have had that lends itself to more of a summer camp-like atmosphere. It was good to catch up with people as well as develop better relationships with others. We’re just a group of 18, well 19 now that we adopted a Niger transfer. It’s a bit of an anomaly that all of us have made it to IST, one that many of us hope will continue because as such a small group when someone leaves it’s a noticeable impact on the group. There was plenty of talk about challenges and breaking points and I know a number of people are entertaining thoughts of going home if things don’t get better. That’s life, and as amazing as this experience is, sometimes it takes a toll on uncompromisable things. I know that all of us have put down roots in this country and only with very heavy hearts would we leave. Lord knows why I’m dwelling on this so much since no one has gone home yet! Here’s hoping to a roster of 18 at MST!


5 Responses to “Turikumwe”

  1. Lily Warrior November 3, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    So wonderful to hear your latest post. Take care!

  2. Jamie November 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    It’s so good to hear some news!!! I’ve missed your blogs:) I was super curious why you were going to be away for nine days. Does your favorite phrase mean…”Happy spirit?” Love!

    • Heidi November 16, 2011 at 5:10 am #

      Unfortunately Jamie it isn’t anything as meaningful as that. Essentially it translates to, “Over there” and it’s basically the only answer you’ll get when asking someone where they live, where they’re coming from, where they’re going, where something is. It’s the closest thing to sarcasm I’ve experience thus far.

  3. Christine Hooyman November 7, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Just want to comment that I creepily read 80% of this blog post as it was being typed up during a very informative and attention-grabbing BCC session.

  4. Jill teVelde November 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Missed your blog posts. Glad you could relax a bit and enjoy the company of your PCV peers. Hope you enjoyed the treats. Wish I could be there. You are awesome and doing amazing things. Keep it up, baby!

    Love, Llama

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